Friday, 13 April 2018

Tulips in Holland


Several years ago, I became aware that at some point during spring the fields in Holland are fleetingly striped with glorious bands of colour as hundreds of thousands of tulips bloom. The images of this stayed with me and every spring I've felt quite desperate to see it with my own eyes. The window for this happening changes each year depending on the temperature - sometimes it's early March, sometimes as late as May, so ideally a tulip-viewing trip would be booked at the last minute with an eye on the flowering forecast. However, fitting in with school holidays, we decided to go when we could and keep our fingers crossed. 


It was a decision that didn't entirely pay off, but wasn't a complete failure either. When we visited, some bands of colour had started to appear, but there were still vast areas of green that in a week or two's time will be a deliciously colourful patchwork that I still feel hungry to see. 


We were rewarded with fields of daffodils though...


And perhaps even better, fields of hyacinth whose heady scent was intoxicating. We had hired bikes and were cycling through the Dutch countryside when we saw this and the scent made it feel like an immersive experience...like being bathed, or perhaps buried, in hyacinth, with every bit of fresh air eaten up by sweetness. 



I've cycled very little in England because it's such a terrifying experience: the roads are dotted with potholes ready to flip you over the handlebars if you don't have time or space to swerve around them and many English drivers are angry at having to share the road and express this by driving as close as possible as they pass. Given this experience, I was a little apprehensive about cycling in Holland, especially as not wearing a helmet is de rigueur and, added to this, my hire bike seemed to have barely functioning brakes. But the experience was oddly liberating in how incredibly safe it felt in spite of these things and I realised that our bike-unfriendly roads are an entirely cultural creation. I think, in part, the Dutch have achieved this by not only changing the infrastructure (proper cycle lanes on both sides of the road), but also the law: in the Netherlands, if you get knocked off your bike, the law assumes it's the driver's fault; in England it's the driver's word against the cyclist's. It's such a simple change, but the Dutch have forced drivers into caring. 

As a random aside...most people in the Netherlands seems to ride traditional bikes where you can sit up with a straight back...it made me wonder how these have ever gone out of favour here - so much more comfortable.  



We'd heard amazing things about a place called Keukenhof, so we also headed there, but we left with mixed feelings. It's only open for the seven weeks of the year that daffodils, tulips and hyacinth are in bloom and, without the need to focus on year-round interest, the planting is totally magical. If you could visit after hours, I think it would feel similar to some kind of wondrous fairy kingdom. In-hours though, sharing the space with most of the tourist population of Holland, it feels more like a tulip circus and we found the number of people and selfie-sticks overwhelming. It's very commercial. It would be wonderful if they limited the numbers of visitors, but it probably wouldn't be financially viable when they have such a short window for making an annual income.


The photos below were carefully composed to avoid any people in the shot, which probably perpetuates the false internet image of Keukenhof that we based our own trip on. It's nothing like these photos would lead you to believe and if you're planning a trip, I'd probably say that taking to the roads is a better way to see tulips.





Flowers aside, we stayed in an amazing house that we rented through AirBnB. The house was in the centre of Amsterdam, in a gorgeous area known as Nine Streets. It was only a fifteen minute walk to Amsterdam's central train station, but well away from the bustle of that area, set within streets of boutique shops and independent cafes and restaurants. Our apartment overlooked a canal, so it was perfect for people-watching. 


I took this photo from the living room of our apartment and it shows both the inside and the reflection outside merged together - if you have a moment, double click on the photo to enlarge it and you'll see the bookshelves disappearing into the houses in the next street. 


This photo was taken from the same window during the day, albeit in black and white. We didn't have too much time to explore the city, but we did visit the Van Gogh Museum and the Museum of Modern Art, which was showing some work by artists that my daughter is studying. We walked through the central passageway of the Rijks Museum (where we heard a five-piece playing Pachelbel's Canon, which was fairly special) and the architecture inside looked amazing, but everyone else had gallery fatigue by that point, so that's on my list for next time. As is the Anne Frank House. We'd been warned by friends to book early, but my version of early was two days before we left for Amsterdam...it's a version that wasn't rewarded with tickets. I'm always amazed by how organised other people are. 


The number of bikes in the city centre is just incredible and they seem to have priority over both cars and pedestrians. The bikes are fast and silent compared to cars, so even crossing the smallest road made me check and then double-check. During rush hour, when the offices emptied out for the day, the bikes seemed to move in swarms and I found it fascinating to watch the riders, many of whom looked at their iPhones or ate while they rode. The roads have a chaotic feel to them as a pedestrian, but we never saw any collisions or near misses. 

In other thoughts, let's talk about contact lenses. I'm increasingly finding it impossible to navigate a station or the underground without my glasses on...or to recognise people until they're a short distance away. I wear my glasses for driving, but generally I don't enjoy wearing them...they make me feel like I'm talking to people from behind a wall and they leave a red mark on the bridge of my nose, which means that once I've put them on I then have keep them on to disguise the red mark. In the house, I can no longer see the faces in the photos on our walls until I'm standing next to them and the spines on the bookshelves are a blur of muddy colours. So, with that in mind, I'm thinking I may switch to contact lenses. My mum and sister have both worn them for over thirty years, but they both wear hard lenses and soft ones seem to be more common now, so my mum said I should ask around to find out about them...so here I am, asking around :) Also, daily wear, extended wear, pay-as-you-go....so many options, so much room for indecisiveness. Tell me about your contact lenses - I'd love to hear. 

Just in case anyone doesn't already know about this piece of cleverness, my mum was telling me that her contact lens are built so that one eye's prescription corrects short-sightedness and the other corrects long-sightedness and that the brain then adapts to make her overall vision perfect in all situations. Isn't the brain amazing - that seems totally miraculous to me. 

Florence x

29 comments:

  1. I know exactly what you mean about glasses being annoying, particularly with regards to leaving marks on your nose! I've worn soft contact lenses for almost two decades to correct severe nearsightedness and I would hate to have to do without them. Mine are two-week disposables because I have astigmatism, which means I cannot wear daily disposables. I don't think I would even if I could, though; it seems wasteful. Mine go into a case full of lens cleaner every night until it is time to swap for a fresh pair. The only problem I've had with my soft lenses is that occasionally they tear. But that is rare and since I buy them in boxes of 6, I can just swap the torn one for a new one early (MUCH easier than fixing broken glasses!).

    Your photos from your Holland trip are incredible! My mom loves tulips, but hyacinth and daffodils are my favorites so your timing was perfect from my perspective. ;) Thank you for sharing your photos!

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    1. Thank you so much for all that info. Yes, the idea of throwing something away like that every single day does seem an odd one, doesn't it. I wondered if they had health benefits (like less BPA transfer).

      I think I actually prefer hyacinths as a flower too :) I think it's just the en masse effect of the tulips' colours that I'm drawn to for this!

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  2. I could almost smell the flowers! I can currently smell lilies in our sitting room which my daughter bought me so I can well imagine how fields of flowers must smell.
    Upright bikes are coming back into fashion - there are several makes available now in this country, including of course the lovely Pashley. So get googling and see if you can be inspired to get one! But yes, they have got the whole bike thing much better organised in Europe than here, but did you know that in Holland it was only in the 1970s that cycling really became what it is today? Interesting article here -https://www.theguardian.com/cities/2015/may/05/amsterdam-bicycle-capital-world-transport-cycling-kindermoord

    I joined Cycling UK this year partly because they are very active in campaigning for safer cycling.

    There are lots of lovely traffic free or quiet routes too - see Sustrans website.

    On yer bike!

    No experience of contact lenses I'm afraid....

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    1. A few years ago, I went to a local meeting that was campaigning to make residential roads where we live 20mph, but also sharing their vision for making our town a mini-Amsterdam in terms of cycling. They showed us video footage from the 70s and it was amazing to see the transformation.

      Implementing the 20mph ended up being successful, but proper cycle lanes are yet to materialise, but I think a change in the law over who's culpable in an accident would probably make a difference to how safe it feels. Until then, I'm not sure I have your levels of bravery on the roads here, so I'll enjoy taking a look at the Sustrans website you mentioned. Thanks, Lizzie. x

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  3. I’ve worn contact lenses since I was 13 - first hard & then soft.i have daily disposables which saves the hassle of cleaning & I think also reduces any chance of eye infections. I’m very short-sighted but as I’ve got older I need reading glasses too so my lenses are now varifocal. I tried ones like your mum but they didn’t give me good enough results. The varifocal ones are brilliant - the reading bit is in the centre and distance around the outer circle but your eye just uses them without even realising - very clever.
    I visited Amsterdam with my daughter last year & loved it - i’d planned to hire bikes but the swarms of them moving around made me nervous that I’d get in everyone’s way so I chickened out. I’d love to go back very soon - your Airbnb looks great 😃

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    1. That's really interesting - more amazing brain tricks! Thank you so much for the info.

      Yes, I felt like that about cycling in the centre of Amsterdam too - the country roads felt much more manageable.

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  4. I wear contact lenses every day all day from when I rise to when I go to bed. I wear Specsavers monthly toric lenses for my astigmatism. Mine are also one for long and one for short sightedness. I thoroughly recommend them, so much better in the rain, when opening the oven door etc. Good luck!

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    1. I hadn't thought of that, but yes, what a wonderful advantage. It drives me potty when I get into the car in a hurry and put on a cold pair of glasses and find them misting up because I've forgotten not to breathe until they're actually in front of my eyes!

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  5. At the moment I wear soft daily lenses from Specsavers. I used to have the monthly lenses that you wear for a full month - even while sleeping! I had problems with conjunctivitis though, so that's the reason I use a fresh pair every day. Depending on the brand you choose, daily lenses can be worn for up to 12-16 hours, although your eyes can feel a little dry after that amount of time. This is easily dealt with by using eyedrops approved by your contact lens practitioner (not all drops are suitable). I'd definitely recommend lenses - I would never go back to wearing glasses full-time; contacts are so convenient and more suitable during sports too.

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    1. Ooh, I am feeling totally swayed by these comments. I'm going to ring the opticians tomorrow :) Thank you, Tania! x

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  6. I was in Amsterdam this past week too! I went with my daughter and we stayed in a houseboat I found on Airbnb. We had a wonderful time, and like you we also didn’t book the Anne Frank house in time, so booked the Van Gogh Museum instead. We had an incredible afternoon there, learning so much about an artist we already thought we were familiar with. I love that in depth immersion in one topic. You can see pictures of my trip on Instagram if you’re interested.

    As for contacts, I used to wear daily disposables for about twenty years, but switched back to glasses a couple of years ago. I found that contacts were making my eyes constantly dry and itchy, and my eyesight never felt properly corrected. Even eye drops didn’t help - my eyes would just sting when I put them in. I now wear varifocals which cleverly correct my long sight, short sight and astigmatism all at once. I do a great deal of sport, and just leave off my glasses and exist in a blurry world while I run/swim/climb etc!

    With best wishes, Nancy x

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    1. Nancy, you have no idea what a relief it is to hear you say that you did that too - I felt awful as it's one of the main things we'd wanted to do there. I hadn't realised how late Van Gogh had come to painting or how short, but prolific, his painting time had been! How funny that you were there too - we had perfect weather for our stay, didn't we.

      I love the idea of a blurry running world - it must make you feel like you're going extra quick! x

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  7. I would love to experience all those colourful flowers and scents! It does look amazing. I remember a long time in the past I experienced something similar in California, but there it was vast fields of ranunculus flowers.

    Cycling: I have cycled to school since the age of 10 and now commute to work by bike. It took years for me to feel safe enough on Scottish city roads, moving here from Switzerland, where cycling is just another form of transport. You are right, it is a cultural difference. The poor state of the roads doesn't help, our pot holes are soon to be rebranded as outdoor swimming pools and opened to the public! I practice safe cycling with all my four children from an early age because confidence on the road makes a huge difference. I am glad you enjoyed cycling in Holland. They don't need fancy bikes, it is all flat. I eventually gave away my upright simple bike because I couldn't handle the hills with much grace.

    Have a lovely weekend. x

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    1. Wow! Ranunculus are one of my favourites - I can't even imagine how lovely that must have been.

      Oh, I see - so there is actually a reason. I hadn't thought of that - it makes me want to level a few of the hills around here! You sound like you're very brave with your cycling - much admiration. x

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  8. I have always enjoyed my glasses, more or less, I started wearing them in 2nd grade and dkntd recognize my face with out them. But if I didn't identify with wearing glasses I would totally get the eye surgery. Just a thought.

    I am tulip crazy this week. They are peek bloom here. Who could choose between hyacinth and tulip? We need both :)

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    1. Yes, I see what you mean if you've had them since you were young. I often feel really surprised by how they look if I see someone who has always worn glasses without them - they do become an integral part of someone's face, don't they.

      Eye surgery...my sister has mentioned wanting that too - it scares me a little though. I've only heard good things about it, but I'm really squeamish with a very low pain threshold, so I think contact lenses may be more in my comfort zone! x

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  9. I've worn contact lenses for over 40 years, the ones I have now are a hybrid. The center is a hard lens that corrects astigmatism and it is surrounded by a ring of soft lens that makes them very comfortable to wear.

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  10. In the past few years I have been dallying with the idea of contacts so have read your post with interest xx Thanks for sharing your trip xx

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  11. I have worn contacts for more than 40 years. first hard ones then soft and now soft multifocal. soft are very comfortable from the first day-- hard or gas permeable are not and take some time to adjust. contacts give me much more peripheral vision than I have when I wear glasses. If I was younger (ie didn't have presbyopia ) I would get lasix surgery and not wear glasses at all. if your eyes are dry there are meds that will help you make more tears. go for it.

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    1. Yes, I know what you mean about glasses blocking peripheral vision. They also do something funny when you get to the top of the slope in a multi-storey car park that makes the floor bob up and down for a moment! Quite unnerving, although I've got used to it now.

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  12. I have really enjoyed your post, always do so!!! Your photos are great, especially the one with the reflection from your AirBnB. I had actually seen it in your instagram feed, or was it in your stories(?) and was really impressed by it. Flowers are always nice to look at, especially if they have so vivid colours. As for lenses, I am afraid I dont have a very good personal experience. I used to use them ages ago, when I lived in the UK, as a matter of fact, but they made my eyes water constantly and very sensitive to the sun (you can imagine how horrible that must have felt when I had to return to my native Greece for the summer). About 10 years ago I had an eye surgery and apart from the dryness, which i deal with eye drops, have no other problem whatsoever! Maybe you could consider this option too..

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    1. Oh no, that sounds horrible. But so pleased that the surgery eventually sorted things out for you. Were you very nervous beforehand?

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  13. Lovely post. I've been half tempted by Keukenhof but feared the masses. I drove across south Lincolnshire yesterday and enjoyed a smaller scale version of the flowering fields, with rows and rows of narcissi in bloom.

    I also manage monovision with contact lenses. Such an elegant solution to the effects of ageing. I've worn gas permeable lenses for almost 40 years. I've never been tempted to switch to soft on the grounds of expense alone. I now also have monovision specs - not as effective as contact lenses (& I wouldn't drive in them), but saves the need to switch and 'lose' pairs around the house.

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    1. Yes, it's absolutely packed! It sounds like Lincolnshire may have offered something just as magical - it's sometimes more special when you come across it unexpectedly, isn't it. I can still remember that happening with a whole field of poppies in the Isle of Wight and being absolutely blown away by it. Did you take any photos?

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  14. A great travelogue! As to contacts, I love the idea, but my eyes hate them. I have quite dry eyes, I have learned, so even the single day use contacts feel horrible. Which is a pain, as I also get nasty red marks, and spots on my nose from my glasses. good luck!

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  15. I have soft extended wear lenses - you can sleep in them if you like, but I don't. They are the most comfortable lenses I've ever worn, and I've worn many! I have dry eyes and can wear them all day without having to use drops. They are Acuvue Oasys, and they are wonderful. Two-weekly disposable, and they are used with a peroxide cleaning system which sounds scary but is great - lenses go in basket, solution goes in, catalytic disc in the tub converts the peroxide solution to pure water, lenses are clean the next day. No rubbing (and accidentally tearing the lens!) and takes seconds.

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  16. From my own experience of cyclists and motorists, as a non driving pedestrian it is the cyclists that are most terrifying. They seem often to have no respect for the pedestrian at all - more than once I've nearly been run over by cyclists who think road laws don't need to apply to them. Crossing over on traffic lights, cars
    generally stop, where cyclists usually don't. They come veering towards you at top speed on the pavement or don't stop at zebra crossings etc.

    They seem to have little respect for their own lives either, taking sudden swerves in front of large vehicles without signalling and wearing no safety helmets. I feel sorry for poor drivers as most accidents seem to be less their fault than of the random and bewildering ways of the cyclist (of course there are exceptions with some nasty drivers). Drivers have to live with the aftermath of accidents they have no way of avoiding. It looks nerve wracking to me seeing how cyclists treat busses and the like, dodging in and out and all around. Then they ride on pavements and are generally uninsured - terrifying. I would never ride a bike on the roads here and those who take children on their own bikes in little seats make me angry as they put their lives greatly at risk - with toxic traffic fumes into the bargain.

    I think it would be grossly unfair to blame drivers for accidents as things are currently set up.

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Thank you so much for taking the time to leave a message - it's always really lovely to hear from people.

I now tend to reply within the comments section, so please do check back if you've asked a question or wish to chat.

Florence x

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